Get it wrong to get it right15 Feb 21
Optimism bias is the human tendency to think very differently about an abstract concept than something that we, personally, are involved in. In the context of construction, this means taking the view that although the average project will run overtime and overbudget, our project will be on time and on budget. And it is a real problem in construction, says Nick Francis, director of GIRI Training & Consultancy.
There are, of course, various commercial pressures that exacerbate the problem, but there are also techniques that can counter this very human of traits.
GIRI’s Leadership Training course uses the pre-mortem approach to help prevent optimism bias. ‘Essentially this means that you jump into the future and instead of asking what might happen on a project, you look back and think about all the things that have gone wrong, which unlocks a much more honest way of identifying issues,’ explains Nick.
In the Get it Wrong exercise, participants are asked about all the things that could go wrong on a project, and then these are prioritised in terms of likelihood and impact. ‘Working as a group, participants decide which issues to focus on,’ says Nick. ‘Then we can identify the concern and counter measure. What are the root causes of this happening? We ask why, then ask again, and again, and again. If you ask five times you will usually get to the root cause.’
This is the ‘five whys’ approach, an ‘iterative interrogative technique used to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem’. Each time you ask the question ‘why?’, it leads to the next question. In theory, five ‘whys’ should be enough to bring you to the solution to the problem.
Once the concern has been identified, and the ‘whys’ have led participants to the underlying root cause of the errors, the focus then shifts to identifying the counter measure for each one. ‘What happens through this process is that participants realise that by getting a seemingly unrelated thing right, they can avoid major problems coming their way. It is a very rigorous way to approach a project to eliminate error.’